Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has made it a point to declare that energy concerns had nothing to do with his recommendation to Pr*sident Trump that Bears Ears National Monument in Utah be cut by 85 percent and the remnant hacked into bits. There’s no mine in Bears Ears, he told reporters after Trump issued two proclamations Tuesday cutting Bears Ears and another national monument in Utah, the Grand Staircase-Escalante.
But The Washington Post has obtained documents showing there was heavy lobbying in favor of reducing the monument’s acreage by the owner of the nation’s only remaining uranium mill. It sits just outside the boundary of Bears Ears as designated last year by President Obama, but miles away from the new boundary under Trump’s truncated designation.
Juliet Eilperin’s report on the documents shows that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, lobbied the Trump regime to shrink the monument—which is rich with scenic beauty and ancient American Indian archeological sites—to make it easier to access deposits of uranium ore:
In a May 25 letter to the Interior Department, Chief Operating Officer Mark Chalmers wrote that the 1.35 million-acre expanse Obama created “could affect existing and future mill operations.” He later noted, “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.” […]
Energy Fuels Resources did not just weigh in on national monuments through public-comment letters. It hired a team of lobbyists at Faegre Baker Daniels — led by Andrew Wheeler, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy secretary — to work on the matter and other federal policies affecting the company. It paid the firm $30,000 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, according to federal lobbying records, for work on this and other priorities.
The company’s vice president of operations, William Paul Goranson, joined Wheeler and two other lobbyists, including former congresswoman Mary Bono (R-Calif.), to discuss Bears Ears in a July 17 meeting with two top Zinke advisers.
Although there are a few rich deposits in the world that are as much as 18 percent uranium, most sources, like those in Utah, are well below 1 percent. A mill uses various techniques to turn the ore into yellowcake—U308, triuranium octoxide. The milling process also leaves behind massive piles of tailings—powdery, slightly radioactive waste. The yellowcake is shipped to processing centers that turn it into uranium hexaflouride, which is then enriched to a level useful as fuel in commercial power reactors, a higher level for test reactors and production of medical isotopes, or to a much higher level for use in making nuclear weapons.
Right now, the price of yellowcake is about $25 a pound, well below Energy Fuels Resources’ $40-$50 break-even point. Unless that changes, no new mines are likely to be excavated in the parts of Bears Ears sheared away by Trump’s proclamations. But EFR is looking with hope at the Asian market, where a number of new uranium-fueled nuclear power plants are planned or already under construction and could boost uranium prices.
The U.S. market won’t help. Construction on two new nukes in South Carolina was begun in 2013. After delays and massive cost overruns, the half-completed project was shuttered this summer. Finishing them would have doubled their original estimated cost of $9.8 billion. In all likelihood, come the new year, two nukes being built in Georgia that are in the same delay-and-overrun bind as South Carolina’s will also be shuttered without producing a single kilowatt of electricity. No other U.S. power projects are in the works and are unlikely to be any time soon, if ever.
It may make no difference at Bears Ears. If some already launched lawsuits against shrinking the monuments upends Trump’s proclamations—as many close observers strongly believe will be the case—Bears Ears will return to its originally designated boundaries, and there won’t be any uranium ore mined from deposits near the Energy Fuels Resources mill.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.